| By Elizabeth Fitzsimons |
February 22, 2003
Workers at poultry ranches in Valley Center and Potrero have been
throwing thousands of live chickens into wood chippers to thin their
flocks, animal control officers discovered this week.
Neither of the farms, owned by Ward Egg Ranch, had been infected
with exotic Newcastle, a deadly avian virus that has struck 16 Southern
California poultry ranches. Workers told authorities they were destroying
old, unproductive hens and were following the advice of veterinarians
affiliated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"The magnitude of the suffering is enormous, and it's matched
only by the magnitude of the stupidity and the callousness,"
said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of the Humane Society
of the United States.
Messages left at Ward Egg Ranch were not returned. A woman who
answered the phone last night said the ranch was not commenting.
The San Diego County Department of Animal Services is continuing
to investigate, said Lauren Joniaux, regional director for the South
County shelter in Bonita.
"This was absolutely not an approved method of euthanasia
on these animals," said animal control Lt. Mary Kay Gagliardo.
She and others with the animal services department said they had
never heard of destroying animals in a wood chipper. However, a
spokesman for the USDA said the practice has been considered by
some in the poultry industry to depopulate their flocks.
Thirty thousand chickens were destroyed at the Valley Center ranch
on Fruitvale Road, Gagliardo said. She said most of the birds were
alive when thrown in the chipper. At the Potrero ranch, on state
Route 94 in the southeastern part of the county, it was unclear
how many birds had been destroyed, Joniaux said.
Ranches typically destroy birds by gassing them or breaking their
One worker at the Potrero ranch told an investigator that their
arms had gotten tired from breaking the chickens' necks, so they
threw them into the machinery, Gagliardo said.
Gagliardo said she was referred by a ranch foreman to a veterinarian,
Cutler told her he directed the ranch to use the chipper, and it
was "humane because it was immediate and painless. And he absolutely
stands by it still," Gagliardo said.
Gagliardo said Cutler told her he was also an epidemiologist and
a consultant to the USDA.
When reached yesterday, Cutler said he had no idea what the ranches
were doing, and he had no affiliation with the USDA.
"I just choose not to discuss anything," Cutler said.
A Valley Center resident tipped off Animal Services to the case,
Gagliardo said. Investigators visited the Valley Center ranch Thursday
and, after learning of its connection to the Potrero site, visited
Gagliardo said the ranches were planning to use the chicken remains
for fertilizer. The Valley Center ranch is near ranches infected
with exotic Newcastle disease.
At ranches were the disease has been detected, state and federal
officials always euthanize the birds with carbon dioxide, said Larry
Hawkins, a USDA spokesman. He said the shredding of the birds did
not pose a threat of spreading the disease because they had not
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